29 November 2013

Christmas 1994

It seems still as portentous to me now as it did at the time - that, having moved to Pukekohe in 1984 with the express intention of being one of the three families to constitute the foundation stones of the Pukekohe Reformed Church, I was now about to leave that Church and become a Catholic.

Christmas, 1994 fell on a Sunday, and the Pukekohe Reformed Church celebrated the Lord's Supper on the last Sunday of even-numbered months - still does for what I know.  In August, having decided in July that I must become a Catholic, I had received Communion.  I felt uneasy doing so.  A good proportion of my motivation was cowardice.  Not to receive Communion would certainly have caused our elders to ask me what was going on that I did not come to the Table.  I had, in fact, attempted to contact Roel, our elder, before that to tell him that I had decided to become a Catholic.  I had asked him to come to our house, but he had been unable to do so, due, principally, to ongoing matters in the denomination.  In October I again received Communion, this time with a certainty that I ought not to have done so.  I determined that I would not do so in December.  If Roel could not come to see me - he had again begged off - I would have to see to it that he and Michael, our minister, knew what was happening to me and why I would not receive Communion.

Saturday, 24 December, 1994 - Christmas Eve - I telephoned Roel and told him again that it was urgent that I see him.  What was the matter, he wanted to know.  I had decided that I was going to have to become a Catholic.

This time there was no question about whether he would have time to see me.  We (I, with Susan, and, as well, Johnny - who was the only member of our family who was a Communicant member of the church) were to come to the church office that evening.  Roel and Michael would be there.

I still feel, today, on remembering the occurrence, the fear that I felt that evening.  I scarcely knew how I would justify my decision.  I didn't know what Sue and Johnny would say, for I knew that Michael and Roel would want to know their positions.  Nonetheless, I knew that I had to go.

Michael and Roel were extremely upset.  Roel, it became clear, had had no idea whatever that I had actually thought I might decide to become a Catholic.  I suspect the reason for this is as much because such a thought was almost unthinkable to him as for any unclarity on my part.  When I had first talked to him, just before Christmas, 1993, I had told him that, though I had at the time no intention of being a Catholic, I had to understand this business, and, I had said, it could mean that I would have to become a Catholic at some point.  Perhaps he thought it was only hype.

I was not able to say very much to the two of them.  I told them that I had taken seriously their view of church authority - and that I believed that authority had never been transferred to any Protestant group, but still lay with the Catholic Church.  I remember Michael asked me a number of sharp questions: how did I suppose I would be saved?  By fulfilling the law perfectly as Our Lord had done (this, I think, viewed rightly, is the right answer - that fulfilment can only be by grace, naturally, but I think I phrased it that way to shock, and I suppose it did).  Had I been praying for the dead?  Yes.  Had I been praying the Rosary?  Yes.  I feel so sorry both for Michael and Roel.  I was a deacon in the Reformed Church of Pukekohe.

What about Sue and Johnny?  Both said they were unsure.  They had made no decision.  I had said that it was my intention that any of my family who intended to remain Reformed would have my support - that, indeed, I would ensure they got to Reformed church services.

The upshot was that I was to resign my deaconate, and not Commune.  Susan and Johnny were welcome to Commune if they wished.

The next morning was tearful.  We attended the regular 10:30AM service.  Michael had to stand in the pulpit and announce my resignation from the deaconate - and the reason for it.  I do not remember if Sue and Johnny received Communion or not; I rather think not.  After the service very many came to us - some weeping - wanting to know how I could do this, what had happened, what did this mean?  I did not really have anything adequate to say.  It was one of the saddest days of my life.

17 November 2013

Break-up of the ice

We do not know what consequences our actions will have.  I was determined, now, to enter the Catholic Church.  I had told God I would because I believed - and believe - that I could not be faithful to Him in any other way.  None of us, however, lives in isolation from others.

When, at Christmas, 1993, I had told my children what was going on with me, they were, I think, principally excited.  All this, after all, was not at the time to make any practical difference in our lives.  We continued to attend 10AM and 5PM services at the Pukekohe Reformed Church.  Our children's friends remained those in the church.  The thought was, perhaps, titillating that dad was thinking what were, after all, from the Reformed point of view, outrageous thoughts.

Now it would be different.  I do not remember when, exactly, I told them what I had decided.  When I had come back from Wellington, things were very busy with rehearsals for, and then performances of, The King and I.  This time Johnny was playing clarinet in the orchestra as well.  As always, Helen and Adele played in the orchestra.  I think that Eddie was not involved - unless he had an acting part in it?

Anyway, we were all very busy.  The shows typically played every evening except Monday for two weeks - and a Sunday matinĂ©e as well.  I remember playing my music and feeling, at times, as though my whole world was spinning around me.  What would the consequences in fact be?  Would my family follow me into the Church?  Would it break us up?

Sometime in August I told them.  I said to them that this was a decision that I had made; that it was my decision for myself; that they were all old enough that I could not suggest there was any requirement for them to become Catholics as well; and that I would support any of them who wished to remain in the Reformed Church.  This was true for Sue as well as she was definitely unsure of her own position in the matter.

I told Mark Shea and other Internet friends of my decision.  I told, also, some of my close Reformed friends.  It was certainly upsetting to them.  Of half-dozen families in the Reformed Church close to us at the time, two eventually entered the Catholic Church; two families left the Reformed Church for the Anglican Church; one left any Christian association entirely; one remained Reformed.  How much of this would have happened if we had not become Catholic, I cannot say but I think these actions were not unrelated to ours.

I had told my children.  I had told some Reformed friends close to us.  I had not told my pastor.

Reformed and Presbyterian churches are governed by elders.  All elders are on a level with one another with one exception: certain elders - typically only one in a particular church, but not necessarily - are licensed to preach.  Non-preaching elders are sometimes referred to as ruling elders.  In the Pukekohe church, there were, at the time, I think four or five elders, including the preaching elder.  Different families were assigned to different elders as their pastor.  Ours was Roel (pronounced 'rule' - it's a Dutch name).

Roel was a wonderful man and I was so glad that he was our pastor.  He and I shared many interests.  He was the one who had come to see me at Christmas, 1993, to talk about my 'Catholic problem.'  Now I had decided that I must become a Catholic.  It was with some dread (for I knew how upset he would be) that I 'phoned him, sometime in September, asking for a meeting to discuss 'an important matter.'

He couldn't make it in August; perhaps September.  There was a fairly major shakeup going on in the Reformed Churches of New Zealand at the time, with a congregation in process of breaking from the denomination.  Roel was very much involved in this.  I let things ride.

I let things ride as much from cowardice as anything.  I knew that if I told him the reason I wanted to meet with him because I was going to become a Catholic, he would be with me immediately.  I rationalised the decision to tell him what the matter was only face to face.

Communion was celebrated in our church once every two months.  October came 'round - Communion month.  Should I commune?

I did.  I am sure that fear was the primary motivation here.  But I was very upset at the thought.  October passed.  November went by.  December was here - and December was to be another Communion month.  I knew that I could delay no longer.

10 November 2013

Low water

After that June morning in 1994 I ceased to panic, but I did not cease going over and over the business.  I continued to read everything I could get my hands on.  I re-read my Protestant teachers - Rushdoony, Van Til, Jordan - and others, including the many books sent to me.  I felt they had been misleading me.  Yet I could not sort things out.  Were the Catholic protagonists any different from the Protestant antagonists?  Were their arguments simply more special pleading?  Every man's case seems convincing until you read his opponents.

June passed into July.  We were beginning to be concerned, at the University, about computer security.  There was to be a two-day training programme in Wellington on methods of monitoring network traffic, and my boss wanted me to go.  I have never been keen on travel - but our close friends from Pukekohe - I am a little dubious about mentioning names here but my children will know who I mean when I say their surname began with the letter 'C' - lived in Wellington.  I could fly down on the Monday and stay with them.  The course took place on Tuesday and Wednesday 26 and 27 July, 1994, so I would fly back on Wednesday.

Friday I browsed in the Catholic books in the University library, wondering what book or books to take with me for reading whilst on the 'plane, or at my friends' house.  I had never heard of Ronald Knox, but here was a book by him called The Belief of Catholics.  I would take that.

I almost skipped the first four chapters.  I knew all this stuff - why believe in God, why believe in Jesus - the basics.  I decided I would read everything.  I was stunned by what I found.  I was liberated.

Since I had become a Reformed Christian I had been taught in the Van Tillian presuppositionalist school that it was not possible to present evidences for the existence of God - indeed, to present evidences for the truth of the Christian - and Reformed! - religion.  More radically, any attempt to do so proceeded necessarily from a desire to hide from God.  The presupposition of all thought was the truth of (Reformed, forsooth!) Christianity.  Without that, thinking was not possible.  I recall, in 1984, asking my minister how we knew what the canon of Scripture (the list of books that are truly part of the Bible) was.  He thought for a moment, then said that it had to be presupposed.

Knox's first four chapters led me through the classical Thomistic Five Proofs for the existence of God.  I felt, for the first time, that I did not simply have to make a leap in the dark - fideistic act of the will, not based on any reason whatever.

There is a sense in which Van Til is right.  If God - the God of the Bible, the God of faith, the real God - did not exist, there would, indeed, be no possibly of thought on our part.  What caused me to stumble was the fact that I, a finite and incarnate intellect, needed to approach the knowledge of that through my experience - ultimately through my senses.  There is no other way for me to know that or anything else.

For several years our daughters Helen and Adele had played in the pit orchestra for musical plays put on by the Pukekohe Light Opera Company.  Once Adele, and once Eddie, had acted in plays as well.  Bill Chessum - still around and attending all the Manukau Symphony's concerts, though in a wheelchair from his stroke some years ago - had auditioned Helen years before and we as a family had been very much connected with the PLOC.  A show was coming up and I was to play the horn part in it.  That same Wednesday evening there was a rehearsal.  Sue was to pick me up at the airport, with my horn and music in the car, and drop me at rehearsal.

I had read Knox's book at my friends' house, almost finishing it.  We took off from Wellington airport late in the afternoon.  As we gained altitude (and the cabin pressure dropped), my badly-plugged sinuses - the same problem that had been part of my panic the month before - cleared.  I knew I would be experiencing pain as we descended.  Nevertheless, I was less concerned with that than with what was happening to me in my mind and heart.  Shortly after takeoff I finished the book.  I sat for a few moments in silence - but I knew that I was undone.  I recall praying these words: "Oh my God, I will never dot every 'i' and cross every 't' in this business - but I know enough now to know that if You told me that I was to die tonight, I would want to find a priest.  I do not want to offend You, and I believe You are leading me.  If You do not stop me, I am going to become a Catholic."

I came out of the terminal and Sue was there to meet me.  I said nothing.  She looked at me and said, "You've decided, haven't you?"  I replied, "Yes."  She said, "You're going to do it, aren't you?"  "Yes."

I think that was the lowest point in the whole process.  My heart felt like a stone in me.  I did not know what I was getting myself in for.  I felt that I was betraying my family, my friends, my Reformed minister.

I have thought since that it was ironic that the music we were playing - the show we were going to put on - was Rodgers and Hammerstein's The King and I.